Shine Bright

comments: 63


I had such a wonderful Mothers' Day weekend. It was filled with sweetness and food and family and fun. Amelia's birthparents and -grandparents and -siblings were all here on Saturday and it was such a perfect day. On Sunday we went to brunch with my mom and sisters and brother-in-law and nephew and had a great time. It was alternately busy and relaxing, and included lots of pampering and lots of playing and, best of all, lots of snuggling with my baby girl, who's no longer a baby but still loves to cuddle and have her back rubbed and hold my hand and give me Eskimo kisses and look into my eyes to see what color they are. I return every gesture in kind, a thousandfold, and thank the heavens above for giving me the gift of her life and love. She is the sweetest, most darlingest, most lovable, lunatic of a creature and oh I love her so much!

Life with a five-and-a-half-year-old is filled with the usual prosaic sort of chaos. There is constant climbing on everything, falling off of everything, interrupting you talking to them with some random completely bizarre talk of their own [indicating they're actually not listening to you whatsoever], playing "kitty" with totally realistic and seriously terrifying meows, refusing to sit on those automatic-flushing toilets in restaurants or stores [I hate those things!!!], climbing trees that are too small, climbing trees that are too big. Always running or otherwise crashing through every place. The other morning I was about to get in the shower and I asked Mimi if she wanted to get in. She likes to shower at the pool but she's only ever taken one shower at home, preferring the bathtub here. But this time she said yes. We have one of those corner, capsule-like showers upstairs; it's a standing shower but also has a little cedar bench for me to sit on. So I'm sitting on my bench and holding the doors open for Amelia to come in. She's standing outside the shower trying to decide if she wants to, sticking her hand into the water and yanking it back while I am saying with, admittedly, some urgency in my voice, "Come in if you want to. Water's getting all over the floor." Shower doors still open. Her standing there, reaching vaguely toward the water with her toe. Then her hand. Then her toe. Hand. Me: "Do you not want to?" Her: "No, I want to!" Me: "Okay, well, decide, so I can shut the doors either way," and as I'm saying this she apparently decides she doesn't want to and instead turns quickly on her heel and starts to tear out of the bathroom, only to wipe out on the wet floor and face-plant into the wastepaper basket and the dog's water dish. Wailing. Tangle of arms and legs. Bathmat bunched. I come lumbering quickly (oxymoron) out of (still running) shower, dripping more water everywhere, to help her up. She stops crying abruptly, apparently having remembered something else she wants to do. Exits. I climb back into shower and sit down and crank the water up, almost as hot as it will go, face in hands, steaming water streaming blissfully and finally over my head. Thinking: "God. It's only 6:32." This, and things like this, all. day. long.

Other moments, reading together, snuggling together, her sweet drawings and her forty-five stuffed animals (I protest), her singing to herself and talking to herself in the sweetest voice, her good nature and her easy smile, her smushing my face so hard to her own face that I can't breathe, her spontaneous hugs, her head against my chest, her "shop" in the window of my studio where she sells 6" pieces of yarn, her trying to write words, her love of Dairy Queens [sic], her portraits with big earrings and big smiles, her outfits (for Blue Day, White Day, Pink Day, Pick-Out Day), and her spiderwebs of yarn/embroidery floss/tape measures wound between table legs and drawer pulls. All of this sweetness. It's everything, everything to me.

I didn't bake any pies for Birthmother's Day. I wanted to, and had wanted to get up early and go to New Seasons (grocery store) all by myself and get ingredients and bake them that morning. But instead the pies you see above were baked by New Seasons bakery. I was too tired to make them because I wound up staying up late the night before, having finally, after about a year of searching, found my dad's birthparents — or at least the two people who I am pretty much 100% sure were his birthparents — on It was a total coincidence that I found them in the very early morning hours of Birthmother's Day (which is, if you weren't sure, the day before Mother's Day), but I had gotten a few very important DNA matches with close relatives on Ancestry within just the past couple of weeks and I knew I was close to figuring it out. When I did, when that last puzzle piece in the form of a marriage certificate between the two families whose names just kept showing up in my ghostly family tree, I actually got lightheaded. It was late at night and I was in bed in the dark, looking at my iPad, and I swear I literally heard something in the universe go click.

Sophie. Veronica. Manda. Anna. These are the names of my father's birthmother and -grandmothers and -great-grandmother that neither I nor he (he passed away in 2000) ever knew existed. Well, surely I knew they had existed — somewhere in my rational mind I knew that someone must have existed. But really, more frequently, I felt like maybe I had (mostly) fallen straight out of the sky. Until last year, I only knew one-quarter part of even just my biological ethnicity. My dad's was entirely unknown, and my mom's mother's was unknown. Or rather, we thought we knew, based on names (Lucile DuMont sounds French, doesn't it?) and legends (Italian, Italian, Italian). But we were wrong. I'm Croatian and Polish on both my mom's side and my dad's biological sides, with 1/8 English from my mom's half-English (not French) mother.

It's hard for me to explain why any of it even matters. I mean, I honestly don't exactly know why it matters now. Most of the time I'm not thinking about it. I'm living my life in the present moment, chasing my little butterfly as she zooms around on her scooter and brings me dandelion bouquets eight times a day and nose-dives into the dog bowl. But I always wanted to know how I got here. How we got here. I was always interested in history. I was always interested in geography. I was always interested in peoples' stories, and I always felt like I didn't truly know any of my own.

It goes deeper than that, though. In researching my family's history, in discovering just how many people in how many different families on how many different sides and for how many generations were keeping secrets, I can see that the legacy of . . . confusion . . . sadness . . . loss . . . insecurity . . . and even anxiety . . . around these mysteries runs deep, and also lasts for generations. It has certainly affected my family, and my sisters and me, in ways I'm only beginning to attribute. Eight years ago when Andy and I began the process of becoming parents by adoption, we always knew that in the best-possible-case scenario we wanted a local, open adoption, and we are lucky enough to have that. I don't talk about it that much because it involves so many other people, and their stories just are not mine to tell. But every single part of it, even the hardest parts and the hardest days, has been a total blessing (even in the days before Amelia when, oh trust me!, it didn't seem that way at all). I think, in life, you can try to mitigate the losses and maximize the gains. And what we have all — Andy and I, and our families, and Amelia's birthfamilies — gained from loving Amelia and loving each other is so profound it still regularly brings me to tears of gratitude and joy. How lucky we all are to be in this together! I think it's pure magic.

I obviously cannot and would never presume to speak for any other adoption experience or decision. People have very strong feelings about these things and I have the absolute, utmost respect and deep reverence for that. But I'm just telling you how I feel, and how it's been for me (and Andy), and how Amelia's birthfamily tell us it is for them. We'll always encourage Amelia to express how it is for her, especially as she gets older and is better able to articulate her thoughts for herself. All of us want so badly to be the best moms (and dads, and grandparents, etc.) we possibly can be. And for me, that effort is starting to include truly examining my own feelings about my own growing-up in a cloud of secrecy. Finding real names of real people who lived and breathed and gave life to the people who gave me life is an effort to peel back some of those layers, and let in the light. So that I can shine bright for my beautiful baby girl.


I completely understand what you are saying about family history. I became obsessed with knowing mine in the early 90's (I was in my early 20's). I just felt I had to KNOW so I could share with my children where we/they came from. There were rumors of chicken/horse thieves and native american ancestors but I wasn't entirely sure. In 2004, at age 35, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had a complete hysterectomy. Having lost my chance for children, my career goals had been a version of "Olivia Walton" and my paternal grandmother, my ancestry didn't matter to me anymore. For years, I couldn't even look at my folders. I had it all boxed away. Then a few years ago, I started fiddling around with it again. I recently took the Ancestry DNA test, and was pretty surprised by what I found.

Anywho, I'm glad you had a wonderful Birthmother's and Mother's Days. Happy weekend.

I love the way you write about your days and your life. I so look forward to your posts.
My name is Lucille (although it was nearly Minette) because of an interesting French connection which I have been trying to verify for years. I've never met anyone else called Lucille.
Those toilets give me a heck of a fright too! I might need to arm myself with post it notes. The driers are pretty scary for small children too.

There's just not a thing as too much love is there?

It feels really good and brings me a lot of happiness reading this article! I was always surprised and amazed by the relationships you have with Amelia's birthfamily, which involves so much generosity, and would be quite impossible for so many people (and I think legally too here in France). She is SO lucky, in so many ways...

And oh so funny, the lemonade you have on your table comes from this region I live in (Lorraine)! Small small world...

Tracy H says: May 20, 2018 at 06:25 AM

Hi Alicia

I have followed your blog for over 7-8 years now. Never commented, but always just love listening to your updates. I have a question, as I went through your adoption with you ;-) do you intend to adopt more children? I always imagined that you would.

Tana Griffith says: May 20, 2018 at 12:16 PM

What a lovely post. I do like how you are expressing all these feelings. Amelia is lucky to have you.

I sat next to a girl on my last flight that is the person that does that for ancestry. Connects people with their birth parents. It was amazing! Great job to have.

You're wonderful. That's just all.

Interesting, the question of WHY it matters.... You probably don't have to explain to anyone, because we all share this feeling, it's basic to our humanity, to want to know our history, our family. Is this what they call a "primal" need? I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who really doesn't care.

I do know what you mean about it not affecting your daily life, though I think it does, because YOU are the subject of that daily life, so your feelings about your identity and wholeness can't help but affect your attitudes and behaviors, if only in subtle ways.

That lightheaded moment you describe tells a lot about the momentous nature of an event when ghosts, as it were, suddenly emerge as persons with names. I'm so happy for you!

mribaro says: May 20, 2018 at 11:37 PM

You can Google Croatian lace :) or Croatian embroidery - my favorite is "Četverokuka".


Stefanie says: May 21, 2018 at 06:36 AM

Alicia...a true bearing of your heart!...WOW!!! Thank you for it...Life is certainly a series of twist and turns...but the JOY!...So glad you "see" it!!!

I am so happy for you that you found your father's birth parents, I absolutely believe there must have been a universal "click", I'm sure all those ancestors were cheering you on until you'd found the final piece. This was such a beautiful post, thank you for sharing it all with us, how wonderful and sweet you are! I totally get the "and it's only 6:32am" feeling, life with a 4 year old has been the most challenging for me yet as a parent, and I'm just trying to hang on and try MY best to be better, but oh! the highs are high and the lows are so hard! LOL I truly love reading your blog, it is something I look forward to and I'm always so delighted when there's a new post, reading your blog is one of my "happy places" LOL, so thank you. :)

What a true delight in reading your post and in reading all the comments too. Especially the comment from Andy's mom. You and your family are truly blessed.

I'd never been much for genealogy, up until about 2 years ago, when my Grandfather died. He was the last of my grandparents. My father passed away in 2004 and my mother is in the advanced stage of early dementia. I still have my brother, but I was feeling very slim on relatives and so very unrooted. There is something about the process of building up my family tree that helped with my mourning. To see that some of the legends were true, and that we're really farmers and ranchers all the way down. It makes you feel just a little more connected (even if just to ghosts). I'm glad you success on your search.

Amara Bray says: May 21, 2018 at 09:26 PM

I just have to comment today. Such a gift for me to see a long post from you. I have been reading for years and feel ( hopefully not too creepy) invested in your family. We have Italian ancestry, and to hear you figured out you guys aren't Italian was quite a surprise. I am so happy for you that you got your click. I still remember finding my great grandmother in a census record in college and having tears come to my eyes. I really believe they are still around, somewhere, cheering us on.

tammyCA says: May 21, 2018 at 10:13 PM

The ancestory and DNA thing has been a godsend to my MIL. She was born of a wartime romance and now after a lifetime of mystery she is closer to learning about her biological father & that family. Apparently, if this pans out, he wasn't killed in ww2 as her mother had been told by others but was a married man with kids and lived til old. The genealogy is her thing so it's fun for her.

Anna Strandberg says: May 22, 2018 at 11:44 AM

I think, the older we get, the more important/interesting our heritage becomes. And I can imagine that it’s even more important overseas.
I always thought you were from Scandinavian decent. Because of Lucia and Midsummer and all that Nordic (Swedish even?) celebrations.

Croatia is way cooler than Italy. Such an amazing country.

I know my ancestors is from all over Europe, and one day I’d like to find out more. I know some about the Swedes down the line (Ingrid Bergman was my grandmothers cousin for instance), but the are some Italian and Belgians aswell.

We had a long process before our youngest came to us, and found great comfort in reading your blog and your endeavors. Just knowing we weren’t alone.

Anna Dandelion

I am currently waiting for the results of my Ancestry DNA test (any day now). I know there are holes in my family tree and things I know that others don't know I know and...I'm anxious about what I'll find but I think it's the new baby in my life that turned the desire to know into a more actionable need, and I went for it. I actually haven't told anyone that I did the test and I am trying to stay a bit dark on the website, but we'll see what happens. It's odd to think that within days I might find out some things I've been wondering about for 20 years!

So lovely to read about your day and journey, but the best part was your description of living with a 5 1/2 year firecracker, after 3 boys all grown up nearly...turns 6 in two weeks...and it is as exhausting and wonderful and beautiful and exhausting just as you described....did I mention exhausting LOL She is my absolute joy and delight and I'm so glad as you are to have her.
Thanks for sharing and reminding me.

Yvonne Welty says: May 23, 2018 at 10:36 AM

It is always a treat when you post on your blog. Your writing is priceless! Thanks so much for sharing your life with the universe!

Susan from Tsawwassen, BC says: May 23, 2018 at 10:50 AM

Simply beautiful (heart emoji)

Automatic flushing toilet trick: Drape a piece of toilet paper over the sensor. Once you are ready for it to flush, remove the toilet paper and toss it in the bowl. My girls are scared of those things too!

I love the way you write and the stories you tell. Thank you for sharing with us!

Jennifer says: May 24, 2018 at 04:13 PM

My daughter will be 28 years old this year and I'm still storing her forty-five stuffed animals!!!!

What a beautiful post. Happy belated Mother's Day, Alicia! I read, but have not tried, that if you fold a couple of layers of tp over the red toilet eye, you can trick it to be still until you're done.

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.